Two years ago, it appeared Jason Maxiell was just hitting his stride, as he’d started 71 games for the Pistons and blocked a career-high 1.3 shots per game, an impressive number for an interior player listed at only 6’7″. The performance came in a walk year, but the market was nonetheless unkind to the former 26th overall pick, who saw his annual salary cut in half when he took a two-year, $5MM deal with the Magic. A reduced role in Orlando has only seemed to compound Maxiell’s problems this summer, which sees the forward/center back on the market after the Magic waived him in advance of the date that his salary would have become fully guaranteed for this coming season.
Maxiell started the first 10 games of this past season for Orlando, but he made only three more starts, and by mid-January, he was an afterthought, appearing in just five games from that point forward. The veteran didn’t seem to fit in with the Magic, and his role on offense was different from the one he played in Detroit, where he spent all of his first eight seasons in the league. He took fewer shots from point blank range than ever before in his lone season with the Magic, but the percentage of his field goal attempts that came from between three to 10 feet away from the hoop was more than double his career rate, per Basketball-Reference. He made 60.5% of those attempts, much better than usual, but he was worse than he normally is from inside three feet, offsetting any gain. His 44.8% shooting percentage overall was below his career 50.1% mark, and he notched just 8.0 points per 36 minutes, a career low and a woeful number even for a player not counted on for scoring.
The former University of Cincinnati standout also took a step back defensively after showing improvements in his final two seasons with the Pistons. Detroit was a better defensive team with him on the floor than when he sat during the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons in terms of points per possession, according to NBA.com, a reversal from the first six years of his career. This past season, the Magic were better off defensively when Maxiell sat, though there wasn’t a vast sample size, since he played fewer than 500 total minutes.
It’s hard to quantify Maxiell’s effect on a game when he’s performing well, since he’s not a scorer or an elite rebounder, he doesn’t rack up assists, steals or, outside of his last season with the Pistons, blocks, and he hasn’t been a plus defender for much of his career. Still, at his best, he was an efficient player for a strong team. He put up a PER of 16.7 in his third season in the league, the last of Detroit’s six straight appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. The next season, the year before he signed a four-year, $20MM contract, was the only other time in his career in which he recorded a PER above 15.0, the mark of an average player. That was also the last time one of his teams made the playoffs, and that’s probably not a coincidence.
Last season’s Orlando experience underscored the notion that a team can’t simply plug Maxiell into the lineup and expect results. He seems like the sort of player who needs a specific set of circumstances to thrive. His track record suggests he plays better for winning teams, so the Heat, who have made preliminary inquiries about the Andy Miller client, would make sense. The Clippers are looking to fill up their roster, since they’re carrying 11 players and newfound space beneath their hard cap, but they haven’t been linked to Maxiell. That’s in spite of the ties that coach/executive Doc Rivers has to Lawrence Frank, the coach for whom Maxiell seemed to play his best defense. Frank is under contract with the Nets, another team that figures to win more games than it loses this year, but just what sort of role Frank will play for Brooklyn is unclear. Maxiell performed efficiently for Flip Saunders when he coached the Pistons, but the Wolves have 15 guaranteed deals, so it doesn’t appear there’s room there.
There aren’t many who have this much trouble finding a deal after having been a full-time starter just one season prior. Such a fall-off happens occasionally with older players, but Maxiell is 31, so he’s not far removed from what should be his peak years. It’s conceivable that he’s fielded a few non-guaranteed offers and is waiting for guaranteed money, or perhaps he’s reluctant to accept the label of minimum-salary player, one that’s probably firmly affixed at this point. Playing in China is a consideration if he’s thinking about boosting his stock and signing with an NBA team for the stretch run, but Chinese teams generally prefer high-scoring perimeter players, so he might not find an offer that makes it worth his while. It’s not an attractive set of circumstances that sit before Maxiell, but he and Miller must be careful to take the offer that would best help him return to his stature as a valuable NBA contributor. Finding the right coach and teammates is more important than securing the most money at this juncture in Maxiell’s career.